A number of small retailers have questioned COVID-19 restrictions that stop their business from reopening for at least a fortnight while hairdressers have been allowed to return to work.
Barbers and salons across the city were booming on Monday, with one owner of stores in the city’s west reporting waits of between two and four hours.
Shagun Oberoi (left) at Just Cuts in Werribee. Credit:Penny Stephens
“People are flowing in but it’s the first day and people haven’t had a haircut for weeks,” said Shagun Oberoi, director of Just Cuts stores at Werribee Plaza, Point Cook and Tarneit.
Customers in the barber’s chair on Monday had to wear a mask, as did their hairdresser, and limited numbers were able to enter salons because of social distancing rules. Magazines were also gone because of their high-touch surfaces.
Disinfecting chairs and ensuring proper sanitation between cuts was making things take slightly longer. “But safety is important, and the clients appreciate it," Ms Oberoi said.
In Albert Park, barbers Saint 157 were cutting from the moment the doors opened. “The phone’s been going mad,” said barber Lewis Maitland. “I’m fairly booked out from 9am until 9pm tonight, and I haven’t had a lunch break.”
While the hairdressing industry rejoiced, other businesses expressed frustration that their doors remained shut while an increasing number of other retailers opened.
Francis Stewart is a co-owner of Bob Stewart, which specialises in school uniforms and has stores across Melbourne, including in Kew, Bentleigh and Albert Park.
“It’s our main customer base that you’re seeing in the greengrocers or the Woolworths or Coles in the same area, and they can trade safely and we’re not permitted to trade,” Mr Stewart said.
Until all retail reopens on November 2, businesses such as Bob Stewart are relying on click-and-collect. In normal times, Bob Stewart's online shopping is 10 per cent of its trade – not 100 per cent.
It had put incredible pressure on the store’s sales systems, Mr Stewart said. “Especially for students, you’re hitting a moving target because they keep growing. It’s very hard to get the exact sizing right. We’ve had returns and people want to ring and ask about sizes.”
Mr Stewart said while the store helped as many customers as possible, the sheer volume of orders made it intense. “I think one day we had 750 online orders to process in Kew.”
Tim Smith, state Liberal MP for Kew, said the rules were “entirely inconsistent” and all retailers needed to be allowed to open immediately. “I can get my hair cut, walk down the street and go to the fruit shop, go and buy a coffee, and yet I can’t walk into Bob Stewart’s and buy a pair of socks,” he said.
Small Business Australia Bill Lang executive director said smaller retailers were under incredible strain.
“The JB Hi-Fis, the Kmarts, the Targets, they’ve got all this infrastructure to do pickups, and so the big corporate chains are picking up market share at the expense of the smaller retailers.”
The Australian Medical Association warned against pushing for the easing of restrictions earlier than the Andrews government already had in place.
Melbourne needed to open slowly and carefully because it was such an uncertain period, Victorian president Julian Rait said, and because of continuing concerns over the state's contact tracing abilities.
“No other jurisdictions – with a few notable exceptions like South Korea – have pulled back from a second wave and brought cases down so quickly,” Mr Rait said. “We are kind of in uncharted territory. If you open up too quickly you could get a third wave after Christmas.”
A government spokesman said businesses allowed to open on Monday did so based on public health advice, and also included car washes and outdoor maintenance.
"The timeline for the opening of other businesses in the retail, hospitality and personal care services is based on the current advice of our public health team,” he said, adding there was a chance the November 2 timetable could still be brought forward.
"If we are in a position to safely move earlier, we will.”
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